There are a few old sayings that I really like: “It’s not what you eat, but what eats you” and “Laughter is the best medicine”. Quite literally, our mental state and how we feel affects our physical health and wellbeing.

Research shows that day-to-day choices can make a big difference to how we feel. The level of happiness from one person to the next is thought to be due to which daily behaviours and activities we choose. Happiness researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says: “For weight loss or fitness, we need to make long-term changes of diet and exercise…..it’s the same with happiness”.

Mindfulness expert Doctor Russ Harris says that the heightened sense of awareness that develops when you cultivate mindfulness does not come naturally; you really need to practise it regularly.

Recommended behaviours that bring about life satisfaction and feeling good:

  • Focus on the ‘here and now’. Being ‘fully present in the moment’ for routine daily tasks, like domestic chores or driving to work, is one of the key skills linked to happiness.
  • Offer kindness towards others inside and outside your social circle. Regular volunteer work boosts not just your wellbeing, but your immunity against illness as well.
  • Nurture relationships with family and friends; plan ahead to spend time with them.
  • Appreciate the good things in life. To help develop the feeling of gratitude, write down three good things that happen to you each day. Looking for new sources of gratitude strengthens this skill.
  • Practise being optimistic when thinking about the future.
  • Focus on what you do well rather than your mistakes.
  • Learn forgiveness.
  • Identify goals that are important to you and actively pursue them.
  • Know your character strengths, such as perseverance or playfulness and find ways you can use them often.

If these suggestions feel daunting or unreachable, keep a diary. Studies show that people who keep journals have a greater sense of wellbeing and fewer depressive symptoms. Just writing can strengthen your mind and immune system. The book Writing to Heal’ by Psychologist James Pennebaker helps people to learn from negative experiences.

This one is not for the faint-hearted, but one way to explore values that bring meaning and purpose to your life is to think about your death and write the eulogy you’d like to hear read at your funeral. This confronting technique is powerful because it highlights what really matters to you. See http://makingaustraliahappy.abc.net.au

Maximising your physical health is also critical for your happiness levels. If you’re not getting enough sleep, living on rubbish food and not getting any exercise, it’s unlikely you will feel as happy as you’d like to.

Changing the habits of a lifetime does take a steely resolve though – it takes between seven and eight attempts (that might help you feel better) to cement new habits. It’s simple and easy but at the same time not really that simple or easy – you have to really want change to make it happen.

What I like about these strategies is that anyone with real determination can use these techniques at home, now, and for free.

Have fun practising!

Nyema